Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

Staying with this week’s birthday buffet theme, here’s a versatile and healthy dish that is as perfect for parties as it is for weeknight, make-ahead suppers. It’s one of those nice additions to any plate, both tender and crunchy, salty and tangy, a nice combination of flavors that complements just about any main dish from grilled chicken to poached fish to roasted pork. It’s also nice on its own as a quick lunch or dinner on-the-run.

I began developing this recipe earlier in the summer and have made it for a number of get-togethers now. When friends started asking for the recipe I realized I needed to fine-tune it and get it posted!

I’ve made it both with and without goat cheese, so depending on your dietary preferences feel free to tweak as you wish. If you prefer something like a crumbled feta to goat cheese, substitute that. This recipe is vegetarian but can easily be tailored as a vegan dish if the cheese is left out. It is gluten-free as well, which your gluten-sensitive guests will appreciate.

Rice and Quinoa Salad - the no-cheese version

Rice and Quinoa Salad – the no-cheese version

It’s also a great introduction to quinoa if you’ve been a little hesitant to try it. Quinoa is a nutritious South American seed that is sometimes likened to whole grains like barley or bulgur (tabbouleh, anyone?) because of how it is prepared in boiling water. It is high in protein and all nine amino acids. The outer layer of the quinoa seed, which is removed before it is packaged, is very bitter so you should rinse your quinoa well before cooking to remove any residue. Correctly prepared, it has a fairly neutral taste and pleasant but tender “pop” in the mouth and soaks up the flavors of ingredients with which it is served. Pairing it with rice in a salad like this makes it very approachable for the less-adventurous at the buffet table, and they get all the health benefits of this so-called perfect food.

On the buffet

On the buffet

This is, unfortunately for us, an example of a recipe that our girls are a little too timid to try (what was I thinking putting radishes AND parsley in with unsuspecting rice and quinoa?), but quite a few of the kids who try this like it a lot.  Take the four-year-old birthday boy for whose party we made this: though his mom had to twist his arm to get the first fork-full into him because of all the little green bits mixed in with the rice, he — and I quote his mommy here — “gobbled up a whole bowl and for the next hour told me how much he loves parsley.”

Go parsley! Go quinoa! What better birthday present is there, really, than good health and good food. Except, perhaps, Transformers action figures. For the four-year-old boy in all of us.

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

Ingredients:
3 cups long-grain white rice (Basmati, etc.), rinsed until the water runs clear
1 cup quinoa, well-rinsed to remove any of the white powder that settles on the grains during processing
3 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 cup pine nuts, toasted on the stove top (be careful not to burn them while toasting)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
8 ounces firm goat cheese, crumbled (optional if you want to prepare this as dairy-free)

Cook the rice and quinoa together in a large pot in approximately 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.  Remove from the heat, drain any extra liquid from the pot and fluff the rice and quinoa mixture with a fork. Alternatively, cook the rice and quinoa together in a rice cooker (as I did), filling the rice cooker with as much water as you would use to normally cook four cups of rice. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before proceeding.

Make the dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, lime juice, olive oil and a generous pinch of Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl.

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

When the rice and quinoa is still barely warm (not hot), transfer to a large mixing bowl and combine with the sliced radishes (separate them if they are sticking together), Kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, parsley, and the lemon/lime dressing. Mix well to evenly distribute all the ingredients throughout the salad. Crumble in the goat cheese if using and mix thoroughly. Taste and correct for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Radishes go in....

Radishes go in….

Serve at room temperature.

Serves: 10 – 15. This recipe feeds a large crowd but can be easily halved or even quartered for a smaller family meal.

Kid rating: Oooo, this one is hard to pin down. Most kids try this, bypassing the radishes, and like it. Three solid stars, and sometimes four. Our girls are more in the one to two star camp since the parsley (it’s green!) and radishes are just a little too obvious on the plate. But give it a try with the kids in your house. I’m curious to hear about what other kids think, so leave some comments!
Parent rating: four stars, pushing four-and-a-half for the healthy factor. I also love that this recipe is very adaptable. If you don’t like radishes, substitute something like cucumbers or chick peas. Throw in some halved cherry tomatoes if you’d like. Swap cilantro for the parsley. Include some diced garlic mixed in with the dressing. You can use the rice/quinoa base and lemon/lime dressing as the constants and just work around them with flavor combinations you enjoy.  Again, leave some comments if you try a version you like!

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Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

I’m going to start this post with an endorsement: a six-year-old I know had two servings of this salad at a birthday party this weekend and it was the first thing he asked for at lunch the next day. If that doesn’t get you to try it, I don’t know what will!

While this dish recently joined others as part of a birthday party buffet, it is really more like Christmas in a bowl — only three months ahead of schedule. All green and red, you can’t help but dig in. And when you do, the flavors are both intense and inviting. Crunchy kale, tangy red peppers, sweet raisins, earthy walnuts, and a tart lemon/shallot/garlic dressing tying it all together. And did I mention this, too, is vegetarian and vegan? Bonus!

Feeding a birthday crowd

Feeding a birthday crowd

I sadly have to fess up and admit that, for the longest time, raw kale held little interest for me. My husband and I are big salad eaters but I’d continually pass on the kale at the farmer’s market. Or, when we had it as part of our farm share basket, I’d put it into a soup. Fairly often, I’d freeze it for some future use…which actually meant it went into cold storage until the day I could bring myself to throw it away, all freezer-burned and inedible.

And then….

It must have been another festivity years ago. The time my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, Chef Dan Barber’s now-iconic farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. We hadn’t yet been exposed to the growing buzz around Chef Barber’s fresh cooking philosophy. After touring the farm and then making our way through his multi-course tasting menu we were converts. And while I can’t quite remember if kale was on any of the many plates that evening (it almost certainly must have been!), what I do know is that, suddenly, I couldn’t open a magazine or read a newspaper without seeing Dan Barber’s name. And somewhere along the way, I came across his recipe for Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. It was all over. Raw kale was on the menu at home, too, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients and tastes to really bring out the benefits of this overlooked vegetable.

Like Christmas on a plate

Like Christmas on a plate

So, be it a birthday, a holiday, or just another night packed with soccer practice or piano lessons…give this one a try. You’ll be celebrating, too.

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:
2 large bunches of kale (preferably curly kale), well washed with ribs removed
12 to 14 ounces roasted red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a pan on the stove top and broken into small pieces (not too small though)
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Lay out the kale leaves on a cutting board, stacking one on top of the other, and slice them into thin ribbons across the grain. Put the kale into a large bowl.

Kale, salad-bound

Kale, salad-bound

After removing any remaining seeds from the peppers, cut them into then ribbons as well, and then slice further so that each piece is approximately 1/4 inch x 1 inch (don’t worry too much about the size…you just want small pieces that integrate into the salad). Place sliced peppers into the bowl with the kale.

To plump the raisins, reconstitute them by placing them in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup with water to cover, and then microwaving on high for 1 minute. Raisins will be nice and soft. Drain them, and add the raisins to the salad.

Add the walnuts after they’ve been toasted. Be careful not to burn them while toasting.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper until well combined (this is a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe for jam jar dressings – worth having these at your fingertips). Pour the dressing over the salad and work everything together with your (clean!) hands until the kale is well coated and the red peppers, raisins and walnuts are well-distributed.

The kale salad, being assembled

The kale salad, being assembled

Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for approximately one hour before serving. The lemon juice will begin to soften the kale leaves and make them more tender, and the flavors will really develop.

Serves: 10 – 15 as a side dish. To serve a smaller party, halve the recipe.

It’s worth noting that we’ve done variations on this salad with great results. A close friend of ours doesn’t care for roasted red peppers or walnuts, so I made a version with oven-roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts and it turned out nicely too! I shaved some Locatelli cheese into that version, which made it a pretty close cousin to the version Dan Barber makes.

Parent rating: The hostess at the birthday party gave me a report of “four stars” from the adults. And she really is the hostess with the mostess…so to even have a dish on the table with some of her wonderful creations is an honor!
Kid rating: I’m going out on a limb and giving this four kid stars based on the endorsement from the afore-mentioned six-year-old. Sadly, our girls would NOT try this. Perhaps kale really is an acquired taste…and a six-year-old palate is so much more sophisticated than a five-year-old one!

Zucchini Carpaccio Salad With Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing

This was one of those shot-in-the-dark dishes that, through the miracle of presentation and some phenomena that must have included the stars and moon aligning, made it past the lips of BOTH daughter 1 and daughter 2 (who asked for seconds!) and left me, frankly, both surprised and giddily smug.

The definition of a seasonal vegetable here in the Northeast, zucchini are ridiculously prolific for two short months before retreating to greenhouses and other warmer climes. They are wonderful when harvested small — a pound at the most — and are tender with a pleasingly bitter finish.

Sautéed, fried, stuffed and baked, in a bread or gratin or strata…nearly all preparations call for baking a zucchini, and they can all be lovely. But there is one presentation that, I think, really allows the zucchini to shine for what it is, and that is thinly sliced and raw, with a simple dressing and even simpler adornments. A carpaccio.

It is here that I must pause and share that, despite the tasting rule, daughter 1 VASTLY prefers cooked veggies to raw. Other kids gobble up crisp carrot sticks. Not her, but dump them in a pot of boiling water and she’s a happy camper. This week alone I had to toss two Zip-Lock bags of fresh carrots and cucumbers that came home, uneaten, from school lunch.

So I wasn’t holding out hope when I served raw zucchini. Cooked zucchini rarely gets a second look, so why would its ugly step-sister the zucchini salad get invited to the ball? Why indeed. But this dish, like Cinderella, will get invited to the palace for keeps. Give it a try: it might be your Cinderella dish too, and who couldn’t use a little happily ever after these days?

Imagine this salad on your summer table

Imagine this salad on your summer table

Ingredients:
1 small to medium zucchini (approximately 1 pound)
Salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper
4 tablespoons basil, thinly sliced in a chiffonade
Approximately 1 ounce of Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved from a wedge of cheese using a vegetable peeler

Start by thinly slicing the zucchini — I used an inexpensive mandolin that makes even slices quite quickly. Liberally salt the zucchini slices and place them in a colander to release a little moisture. After about 30 minutes rinse the zucchini, pat dry with a clean tea towel, and arrange overlapping slices on a serving platter.

Make the dressing by combining the lemon juice, olive oil and pepper into an emulsion and pour over the zucchini. Top with the cheese shavings and sprinkle the basil chiffonade over the finished dish.

Really, it’s that simple.

For variety you could add some toasted pine nuts or walnuts — two of my go-to salad additions — for crunch, or try a different cheese (I think a mild blue would work nicely with the zucchini).

Serves: 4 – 6

Parent rating: five stars. This is such a nice balance of flavors if properly dressed and so easy to make with ingredients that are fresh and abundant this time of year. I was thrilled the girls enjoyed it too.
Kid rating: four stars. Daughter 2 had two helpings and daughter 1 managed to eat three zucchini slices, which is more zucchini than I think she’s ever eaten, zucchini bread included. I think the cheese helped, but she even told me the next day that she liked the dish. We’ll try it again soon with more zucchini from the CSA.

Roasted Beet, Cucumber, and Feta Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing

All days of the week are not created equal. Especially in summer. Saturday and Sunday have their obvious merits, and nobody can disagree that making it to 5:00 pm on a Friday shouldn’t somehow be celebrated. But one of my favorite days of the week is CSA day. That’s the day we pick up fresh produce from Cherry Grove Organic Farm, a local community-supported agricultural farm outside of Princeton, NJ.

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

I’m not working this summer which makes CSA pick-up day even better. Instead of flying out of the office and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike to get to the farm before gates close at 7:00 pm, I have the luxury of picking up the girls in the afternoon from daycare and taking them with me. They love it and I love that they love it. It’s a love fest, which somehow is just what the produce deserves.

This week's bounty

This week’s bounty

Look mom, it's cabbage

Look mom, it’s cabbage

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

This week it was HOT at the farm, but the goodies we brought home now have me planning menus days in advance. Our five-year-old even asked to make a salad and came up with a dressing recipe that included sugar, salt, and jalapeños. Hmmm. We’ll have to work on the proportions, but I applaud the creativity! She later confessed that she wanted to make the salad for me and her dad…but then I put together a little something that she and her little sister agreed to try, with predictably mixed results. My husband and I, however, endorse this one!

Salad ingredients:
3 roasted beets, peeled and cubed (to roast, rub with olive oil and roast in tightly-sealed tinfoil with some thyme sprigs at 400 degrees for one hour)
1 cucumber, peeled and cubed
About 4 ounces of feta cheese, cubed (add more if you like feta)
1 cup walnuts, toasted on the stove top in a frying pan until fragrant, cooled and then roughly chopped
Small bunch of fresh arugula

For dressing (with homage to Jamie Oliver’s Honey & lemon juice dressing…it seemed just right when I searched on lemon/olive oil/honey…gotta love Kismet):
1 ounce fresh lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
2 ounces olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey or to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground pepper

Whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined. Set aside.

Combine the beets, cucumber, feta and walnuts and toss with enough dressing to flavor. You may have a little dressing left over…I did. Won’t go to waste.

Place several (5 or 6) arugula leaves on each serving plate and mound salad on top. Finish with additional sprinkle of salt and freshly-ground pepper.

It's a layering thing

It’s a layering thing

A salad makes a plate a meal

A salad makes a plate a meal

 

I served this with pulled chicken sandwiches made from the left-over hickory-smoked chicken thighs and breasts earlier this week. But that, my friends, is a post for another day!

Serves 8 as a side, or 4 as a main dish.

Parent rating: four stars. I would have given it at least four-and-a-half stars if the beets didn’t bleed so much after combining the salad. An elegant presentation, but leftovers looked a little pink…which, if you’re a five-year-old little girl, might not be that bad!
Kid rating: three stars. Beets were downright vetoed by both girls, leading to a squishing episode that we won’t discuss further. Daughter 1 ate all the cucumber and feta and TRIED the beets. Daughter 2 ate cucumber and walnuts, thought the feta was an unknown veggie and rejected it, and squished the beets. Enough said.

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime…Calls For A Quick Greek Salad

It’s July. It’s hot. The kind of hot where the air shimmers and the wrens roost deep in the dense forsythia all afternoon. Too hot to weed the garden (though that is just this week’s excuse…last week it was too rainy). Too hot to do much but think about salads. Veggies, cool and crisp, mixed and dressed. If you’re lucky, you can ask your kids to harvest a couple of ingredients from your garden. My garden is under-producing on cucumbers and the cherry tomatoes are still green, so we had to dig deep into the crisper drawer (ahhhh) to assemble this salad.

1 cucumber, diced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Half a can of chickpeas (15.5 oz), rinsed and drained
4 oz feta cheese, cubed
10 Kalamata olives, halved
1/8 cup finely chopped parsley
Juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
6 teaspoons olive oil

Combine diced cucumber, cherry tomato halves, chickpeas, feta, olives and parsley in a medium bowl. Mix lemon juice and sherry vinegar in small bowl and whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper and adjust seasoning by adding more vinegar if desired. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Some diced radish would be a great addition to this salad as well.

Serves 2 as a small main, or 4 as a side. Or, 1 particularly greedy mommy for both lunch and dinner (which is what happened in my house).

Mom rating: five stars – couldn’t eat it fast enough.
Kid rating: unknown. Mom scarfed it down before anyone got any! Vinegar in dressing might have been a little much for daughter 1, but daughter 2 would have eaten tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas quite happily.